Karsh, an Armenian, was born in Mardin, present day Turkey, and left as a refugee fleeing from the Turkish Ottoman Empire. At the age of sixteen, Karsh’s parents sent him to live with his uncle George Nakash, a photographer, in Quebec, Canada. Years later, Nakash arranged for Karsh to further study with John Garo, in Boston, Massachusetts. Following that apprenticeship, Karsh returned to Canada and started to work with photographer John Powls in Ottawa. It was Karsh’s geographic location that brought him to the attention of Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King, who arranged for Karsh to meet and photograph Winston Churchill along with other diplomats.
Karsh’s images of historical leaders include Dwight D. Eisenhower, Fidel Castro, Pope Pius XII, John F. Kennedy, and Prince Rainier of Monaco. Other notable sitters include Albert Einstein, Audrey Hepburn, Robert Frost, Ernest Hemingway, Frank Lloyd Wright, Andy Warhol, and Pablo Picasso.